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Out of the Blue: Council makes right move with land purchase

November 07, 2013|By Billy Fried

The Laguna Beach City Council voted Tuesday to purchase the property adjacent to the Village Entrance project for $5.3 million.

The purchase was fiercely demonized by opponents of the parking structure. Accusations of overpayment, reckless spending, insider deal making and nefarious scheming echoed throughout the chambers. But why? Why fight this purchase? The council extended an olive branch to find a workable solution, and opponents treated it like poison oak.

It's time to stop the enmity and mistrust. This is a total win for everybody. Who cares about the price? The purchase gives the council — and our community — exactly what we need: a way to beautify the Village Entrance without building a Wal-Mart sized garage or borrowing a dime.

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And it facilitates a far more productive and creative dialogue for next week's workshop. As Councilman Steve Dicterow said, "It may now be possible to get 200 spaces without a parking structure."

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson added, "If there is a way to get spaces without a garage, we'll figure out a way to do it."

Many of the staunch opponents are my friends. But their vitriol is misdirected. The Shakespearean drama they have created — with Pearson as Brutus — is just unfounded hyperbole.

The council simply miscalculated the public's support of this project. They heard the public outcry loud and clear. So they had a chance to buy a property that would change the destiny of the project, and they pounced. Did they pay too much? Not if it means we don't have to spend $45 million to $65 million to create approximately 130 more parking spaces than we get with the new land.

So now we move on to the workshop on Tuesday, where the council has pledged to listen to the public and develop a new plan. Here's the critical part. We cannot consider a plan for the Village Entrance without considering the larger implications to our transportation and cultural infrastructure.

We cannot piecemeal this. Any new developments will be met with environmental impact reports, California Environmental Quality Act and California Coastal Commission reviews.

Last week, I spoke with Karl Schwing, who heads the Coastal Commission jurisdiction for Laguna, and he said, "The availability of parking remains a concern in Laguna. However, we're open to hearing about creative solutions that would address the problem comprehensively."

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